Metro mayors powerless to cut TransLink managers’ pay

Report expected soon on executive compensation but Baldwin predicts best outcome is a freeze

White Rock Mayor Wayne Baldwin and Delta Mayor Lois Jackson.

White Rock Mayor Wayne Baldwin and Delta Mayor Lois Jackson.

Metro Vancouver mayors say they’re powerless to cut the pay levels of TransLink senior managers, despite provincial government claims that they are in charge of the issue.

The mayors’ council was supposed to gain control over remuneration of TransLink’s board and executives in the latest changes to the transportation authority’s governance made by the province last year.

White Rock Mayor Wayne Baldwin was appointed by other mayors to lead a committee exploring how the new changes will work, and whether pay levels can be changed.

So far he’s determined the mayors have no authority under the province’s legislation to initiate their own study of pay levels for TransLink’s directors or managers.

“Even if we think it’s outrageous we can’t do anything about it unless it comes to us in a report,” Baldwin said.

TransLink’s first new executive compensation plan under the revised legislation hasn’t yet been approved by the TransLink board, according to TransLink spokesperson Cheryl Ziola. Its recommendations on any changes would then go to the mayors’ council for a final vote at a date yet to be determined.

But Baldwin says mayors will have no power to alter the plan – they can merely say yes or no – meaning they can likely block any proposed pay hikes but not impose any cuts.

“The best we could do is freeze it – that’s about it,” he said, noting any cuts to pay levels could likely apply only to future hires, not existing staff.

TransLink executive pay has been an early issue in the transit tax referendum, with ongoing criticism of high bonus payments.

TransLink CEO Ian Jarvis received total compensation including bonuses of $468,000 in 2013, while the chief operating officer and chief financial officer each got $380,000 and four other subsidiary presidents or division vice-presidents got more than $300,000.

“The general feeling of the mayors’ council is that’s too high,” Baldwin said.

The next TransLink board meeting isn’t scheduled until March 30 and it’s unclear if the pay recommendations will be made public before the referendum is underway.

TransLink’s board chair is paid $100,000 a year, while other directors typically collect $45,000 to $50,000, depending on the number of meetings they attend.

Baldwin said those amounts are “extraordinarily high” compared to pay for serving on Metro Vancouver’s board and said it’s inappropriate to base pay levels for a government body like TransLink on what private corporations pay their boards.

“I really think the whole governance structure needs to be revisited,” he said, adding the mayors should get real power over top payouts and other aspects of TransLink.

“We seem to be carrying the can for it,” Baldwin said. “If we’re going to carry the public perception we’re in charge we might as well be.”

Mayors mull board seats

A new chair and vice-chair of the mayors’ council are to be elected Friday and the group must then also decide if those two representatives are also going to continue to sit on the TransLink board.

North Vancouver District Mayor Richard Walton has served as mayors’ council chair through the crafting of the transit expansion plan. New Westminster Mayor Wayne Wright served as vice-chair until his defeat in the November civic election.

Walton and Wright took two seats offered by the province on the TransLink board in the fall and it was expected the provincial government would also name its own direct representative on the board – something that has not yet happened.

“There’s been some talk that the mayors should not participate,” Baldwin said.

Some mayors have previously warned they’d be co-opted or muzzled from divulging information if they took the board seats, and criticized for accepting an extra $50,000 a year.

Delta Mayor Lois Jackson will run for vice-chair Friday and said she believes there is value in the two chosen mayors sitting on the TransLink board.

“If we’re not inside the tent we’re not going to have any idea what’s going on,” she said.

Open meetings urged

But Jackson said she will be pressing for open TransLink board meetings so the public can watch debate on most decisions that have been made behind closed doors for the last seven years.

“It should be like having an open council meeting about budgets and should this happen or should that happen,” Jackson said.

“I don’t think it’s in the public’s interest to spend these billions of dollars of taxpayers’ money in-camera. It’s our money and it’s our service.”

Open board meetings were previously pledged by former board chair Nancy Olewiler, but never delivered.

Jackson said she wants to provide representation for South of the Fraser residents who she said “pay top dollar including top dollar for fares” while receiving much less access to the transit system.